The Nilgiri Mountain Railway toy train is the highlight of a visit to the popular hill settlement of Ooty, in India's southern state of Tamil Nadu. Established in the early 19th century by the British as the summer headquarters of the Chennai government, Ooty now draws tourists wanting to escape the stifling summer heat.
Although the railway was proposed in 1854, it wasn't completed until 1908 as the rocky terrain and thickly forested hills made the work difficult.
It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005.
The Nilgiri Mountain Railway is located in India's southern state of Tamil Nadu. It runs from Mettupalayam to Udagamandalam (Ooty), via Coonoor, in the Nilgiri Hills. The track is 46 kilometers (28.5 miles) long, and passes over 250 bridges (including 32 major ones) and through 16 tunnels. This railway is particularly picturesque because of the surrounding rocky terrain, ravines, tea plantations, and forested hills. Coonoor, with its world famous teas, is a tourist destination in itself.
How to Reach Mettupalayam
Coimbatore is the closest city to Mettupalayam. It's located about an hour south, and has an airport that receives flights from all over India.
(It also connects with the toy train's evening arrival in Mettupalayam on the return journey). The Nilagiri Express stops in Coimbatore at 5 a.m. on the way, so it's possible to take this train from there to Mettupalayam. Alternatively, a taxi will cost about 1,200 rupees.
Frequent buses run from Coimbatore to Mettupalayam, starting from 5 a.m. There are also regular passenger trains between the two places during the day.
You'll find a few decent budget hotels in Mettupalayam if you want to stay there overnight to catch the toy train the next morning. However, better accommodations are available in Coimbatore.
Toy Train Services
One toy train operates along the Nilgiri Mountain Railway from Mettupalayam to Ooty. The engine is an 'X' Class steam locomotive, made in Switzerland. It pulls quaint blue and cream wooden carriages with large windows. The engine is changed for a more powerful diesel one at Coonoor, to provide greater traction for the steep climb up to Ooty.
Both first class and second class seating are offered on the toy train, and it's worth buying a first class ticket to have a more peaceful and less cramped journey away from the crowds. It's also possible to get unreserved tickets at the counters if you arrive early enough.
The most spectacular scenery and best views are situated along the stretch from Mettupalayam to Coonoor. Hence, some people prefer to only travel along this stretch.
There's only one toy train departure daily.
- The 56136/Mettupalayam-Ooty MG Passenger train leaves Mettupalayam at 7.10 a.m, and arrives in Ooty at noon (see timetable).
- Coming back, the 56137/Ooty-Mettupalayam MG Passenger train leaves Ooty at 2 p.m. and reaches Mettupalayam at 5.35 p.m. (see timetable).
An additional train service sometimes runs during the peak summer tourist season from April to June.
Do note that the area receives rain from both the south-west and north-east monsoons, and this commonly disrupts services.
The regular reserved adult train fare is 30 rupees in second class and 205 rupees in first class, one way. The unreserved general fare is 15 rupees one way.
How to Make Reservations
Reservations for travel on the toy train to Ooty can be made at Indian Railways computerized reservation counters, or on the Indian Railways website. It's advisable to book two to three months in advance as the train fills up fast, particularly during peak season from April to June, Indian festival season (especially around Diwali vacation), and Christmas.
Here's how to make a reservation on the Indian Railways website. The station code for Mettupalayam is MTP, and Udagamandalam (Ooty) UAM.